WRITER I SONGWRITER I MUSIC PRODUCER
To the point of self-annihilation, my life now is tackling sensitive subject matter in a natural, thought-provoking, humorous and page-turning way, creating richer, truthful human connections within readers. Paradoxically, I’ve never been happier.
I've been writing a trilogy of novels since 2016
Beset by frontal lobe seizures and paranoid delusions, and after two suicide attempts, Nelly’s psychiatrist advises that assisted euthanasia in Geneva is the safest option for her. However, when she offers to donate her heart to terminally-ill Tim and they form a bond, her nightmare awakens to brighter new realities and answers. This is the story of an affair of the heart that develops between two strangers when one must die so the other can live.
Book 2 is an origins story about Nelly’s parents—a Dublin lawyer becoming a judge and her music-producer mother after they become embroiled in the criminal underworld.
Book 3 follows Nelly in America and her efforts to expose her father’s new wife’s political corruption.
This is from chapter 13 where Nelly remembers a therapy session at eighteen years old. In it she decides she is almost well enough to leave Ireland alone and move to France.
She waited by the window, watching boats pass near the horizon. The sea was a hazy pale blue, and the smell of suntan lotion filled the cooling air. As she watched shadows pass by the gap under the door, she remembered Walter’s office and how Ireland wasn’t safe; she was beginning to look like her mother. If those men watching her were real, they’d realise it was her.
That day Walter encouraged her to move about because being sedentary made her morose and closed off. As she did, she wondered how much she might miss the stuffy room and all his books. He had a few comfy rugs she liked to walk on barefoot. His classy mahogany furniture was the inspiration for a dream to be an interior designer to the rich. Old tapestries depicting battles and a big globe were other things she liked to study. His walls of books were mostly psychology books, which she did not miss reading one bit.
She wanted to be liberated from college, therapy and a culture that didn’t suit her.
“It feels like I’m living under authoritarian rule,” she told Walter. “But they’re sophisticated enough to make it seem like I’m not. And it’s like if you aren’t completely compliant they say you have a behavioural problem. Do you even realise how condescending and patronising people are if they know you have mental problems?” She kneaded her hands a lot that year. “I’m not saying you are—although you aren’t always great—but men don’t like it when women speak with authority.”
“What do you mean?”
She paced silently until the urge to respond overwhelmed her. “You don’t like it when the script is flipped. You see women as projects for you.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Argh. Stop that. How do I say this? Okay, so I hated my mam, yes, but I can’t deny that she was trapped in a house alone all day with me. Kids are needy, illiterate, selfish little drains who dumb women down and turn us into crazy people.”
“Where is all this coming from Nelly? Last week we were discussing—”
“Men get to be free, Walter, to explore their dreams and imagination, to invent things and build the world. What are women to you?” She held her elbows.
“Your right, Nelly.”
“I thought I said don’t patronise me.” She bared her gritted teeth. “I’m trying to say I don’t need therapy anymore.”
“You need somewhere safe to work out your thoughts.”
“I only come because Tobe still thinks it helps. He says I’m figuring myself out like everyone else my age, except I’ve had it a lot tougher. He says women are on new ground, we’ve joined the game you’ve been running for years, and I need to not feel resentment about that. I have to focus on the moment and the future.”
“He sounds like a wise man. He knows you’re not ready, too.”
“Maybe I’m not. But I feel like I have to try. I can’t keep talking about things. Look, I don’t plan to look for trouble.”
“Okay, so I challenge the status quo, but I only do it because this world wasn’t designed for me.” She tutted. “Do you remember when we talked about male suicide as if I should care?”
“Yes, we had a whole…” She frowned, unsure if the conversation had happened. “It’s hard for men to get a taste of their own medicine. Seeing how ugly it is when women stop being the responsible ones.”
“And you say you won’t go looking for trouble?” He chuckled.
“It’s hard getting knocked off your perch by us. It’s impossible for some men to accept women were marginalised and told they were not as bright. I’m bright, Walter.”
“You are— Okay, so I see where this is going. How long have you felt you are finished with therapy?” He did the fingers thing, pressing the tips together to form a church roof. “Sit for me for a while. You’re too worked up.”
She rolled her eyes and slammed her palm down on the globe, on Tajikistan. “What’s left to figure out? I hated Mam and loved Dad. He changed, and I felt like I was losing him before they died… if they actually died.” She sighed. “I mean, I know they did. Mam was angry, she wanted a life and not me. Therapy over.” She slumped into a chair. “I’ve accepted they’re dead and I’ve moved on, really. I want to tackle the big problems.”
“You still believe they’re alive.” He smiled condescendingly. “You just said so.”
“Sometimes I think they are, but I know they wouldn’t have stayed away so long.” She stared out the window at a squirrel skipping from branch to branch. “Do you really think it’s likely I’ll always have paranoia?”
“It’s possible if you stop taking your medication.”
“Do you think I’ll eventually get better if I keep talking it over with you?”
“I can’t answer that for you.”
“But I can analyse myself now. I know how you do it…”
He stared at her in a fatherly way.
She shrugged and analysed him back—he had a good bit of Mediterranean heritage in him, was intuitive, but was as Irish as any modern Dubliner could be. A proper rugby type who wore his jumpers around his shoulders. He seemed to have a lot more going on in the thigh area when she watched him leaving his office nowadays. Her thoughts outside often drifted to his greying curly hair and the deep lines in his dark skin. But it was his big black eyes—way too emotional and invested in her to be just her shrink—that made her anxious about continuing with therapy. She just wanted him to give her permission to stop seeing him, confirmation she might be ready for life, alone.
French men weren’t so put off by her. They found troubled young women like her complex and intriguing. They brought out something inside her that she longed to discover. And they were challenging. They were challenging, challenging, so beautifully challenging. And they forced her to be less sensitive; let her breathe under her own power, feel less overwhelmed. Shrinks, like Irish men, were too sensitive.
In her self educated way, despite all of Walter’s books and framed degrees, he didn’t understand anything about women. That made him not so smart. He had the qualities of being an intellectual, he knew so much about not much worth knowing about, nothing that pertained to her. Nor to love. He knew her as a set of hard to control impulses. He would scratch his chin and adjust his glasses. And he wore leather elbow patches and owned a barn owl, stuffed on his shelf. A real cliché. But he didn’t know the spirit that once lived in the animal. Didn’t understand that being a contradiction was normal, somehow. Everything had to be logical in his world. In so many ways his mind was ahead of hers, but in other ways he was pointless. He had always done what he was told, and she knew in her gut that to truly learn about the world you had to test its strength, even to break it and see what it took.
She knew she was ready for the world even if Walter didn’t.
As she analysed his middle-aged eyes, she realised he was the one who had been the victim his whole life. He was a whinger as her gran used to say, unlike her. He posed and that made a cat of her.
She wandered around his office, answering his therapeutic questions as expected while knocking his things onto the floor. “Sorry, I must have a coordination issue or something. You’ll have to test me for that.”
He condescended her for acting out, but she thought nobody should be treated like that, as he saw fit, based on his whinger’s assessment. Fifty per cent of who she was slipped through his hands. She made sure. He wasn’t so confident about his peer-reviewed papers or his years of experience, either, so why should she be? Enough was enough, she couldn’t allow him, or anyone inside her like this, raping her mind. She was ready. Ready, ready, ready!
“Leon is all the Therapy I need.” And France.
“He is a symbol of your avoidance. In circumventing your pain this way you are shutting yourself off from who you are, Nelly. This lies at the core of many of your issues,” he said, casually yawning in an attempt to look less like he was convincing himself that therapy was what she needed, she thought, and not love.
“That’s such bullshit, Walter. I have developed an instinct for what’s right for me, and I’ve grown out of this. I came to say—” His eyes seemed to tremble with deeper, unresolved feelings. Feelings for me?
She remembered he was childless and felt used. “Why do you care so much about me?”
“You risk a fixable problem turning into a long-term illness.” His voice cracked.
“I’m ready to be me.”
He sighed and massaged the dimple in his chin. Before she would leave him frustrated, she noted another book on his shelf. Some of them were in the library, others she had found online.
She ran her finger across the spines of his old leather books near the door. “In all this time, you have treated me as if love is a distraction. What do you know about love, Walter?” she asked, in his patronising tone of voice. “I don’t see any books on it here.”
“Why would there be any?”
“Love cures mental pain. Why did all those old men believe that thinking was the answer?”
“They dealt with the subject of mental illness. Sit for a moment.”
“You are exhibiting signs of controlling behaviour, Walter,” she said, reiterating her dislike for being used as a project or surrogate child. “I feel well. Did you notice I said ‘feel’ and not ‘think’?” She chased an itch around her body. “I’m calmer. It’s not important that someone else helped me, but Leon has done what you couldn’t.” He was hurt but hid it. “I’m going to live in France.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Nelly. Your separation anxiety must be addressed, properly, before you become seriously involved with anyone.”
She tutted. “I’m not nine, I’m eighteen. I came to tell you I’m moving to Biarritz, for good.” His eyes flickered like candles starved of oxygen. “This isn’t healthy for either of us, Walter. I’ve become a twisted perversion for you.”
He leaned forwards, shoulders raised to his ears, fists balled then flattened on the desk like dying fish. “You may attach yourself to this boy.”
“I have Uncle Tobe to talk to, I won’t.”
His eyes said all his work would be in vain—which didn’t bother her now. “My parents’ death is not the problem anymore, seeing you is.” She was dreaming of liberty, the future and Biarritz, where she would be sane; where she would be challenged in ways she could never imagine. “You’re right about one thing, I suppose, I could attach myself to Leon.”
“And if he leaves you, what will—?”
She waved a hand and went to the globe. After she spun it, she hovered her finger and jabbed it down with grinning optimism. It stopped on the Sahara. “Just great, a desert for my future.” She shot him a hateful look. “You make everything feel like a disaster is inevitable? I feel like Leon makes the world seems so bright. He fills that giant hole in me that you just keep dragging me back into by forcing me to think about the past.”
“He may leave a hole bigger than one than the one you have now?”
“It’s worth the risk. This clearly isn’t working anymore, Walter.” She scowled at the wall of dusty books behind him. “You’re in a cult. I finally see it. I was told to be good, to do as I should; don’t act out, go to therapy, understand why I’m so troubled. But being that person doesn’t feel like me. I want to be accepted not fixed! I’m eighteen and I can choose my own destiny. I want to live in the moment not rake over old things. And I can’t do that here, in Ireland, with all these old memories.”
She smiled as she watched the squirrel munch on a nut. “People don’t watch you as closely in France like they do here, did you know that?”
He seemed to have stopped listening, probably thinking about the rugby at the weekend, she thought.
“The moment I started college it all came back,” she said. “The déjà vu, the temporal lobe seizures, the depression, delusions, everything just swamped me like a tsunami one day. Therapy, college, they’re cults as far as I can see. I’m dropping out of everything… I’m running away. And so what? Tobe has agreed.”
“I can’t stop you.” His eyes were emotional as he looked at the door. “Off you go then.”
“I will but… I just need one more thing from you.”
He smirked. “What?”
She sat in the chair where she had sat since she was nine. “I haven’t called Leon in a whole day, and I pretend to myself he hardly matters to me when we speak. I make him work for the love we both need and it feels cruel. I don’t know why I do that. Why do I do that?”
“What have you been consuming on TV or online?”
“Yeah, it might be that. You’re probably right.” She sprung anxious glances at the door and back to his bookshelf. “I read that many young girls’ physical problems are psychosomatic, all in the head. Psychosomatic stuff is still real if it stops someone being who they’re supposed to be, isn’t it?” She flashed at her thighs and back at him.
He shifted in his chair, ran his fingers through his hair and interlocked them behind his head. “Psychosomatic illnesses are real, but some in my profession would disagree.”
She crossed her legs. “I know I’m not a fully formed person. It’s the only bit of shitty advice my mother ever gave me: ‘You’ll only feel like you’re there at forty’.” She mimicked her mother’s smoky deep voice. “‘And by then it’ll be too late.” She waved her hand like she used to. “Maybe I’m more like her than I remember or want to admit to. It wasn’t through lack of trying not to be.” She jolted up, rubbed her eyes clear of his dusty room, sighed and went to the door. Holding the handle, she stared at him and smiled nervously. “You’ll be glad to be rid of me…”
He pressed two fingers to his temple. “I know you’ll be back.”
“You did help a little, but I won’t be back.” She caressed the books by the door. “I’ve more than enough to get on with it.”
“Your affectation that people are after you will become problematic again.”
“I know it’s not real. Love will cure me. Bye Walter.”
SHORT: DUCK’S STRUGGLE
My name is Duck, and I have a problem. Several, actually, but one worth telling you about. Its value lies in the idea that this problem is not unique to me and those with the same problem will benefit from a shared problem being a halved one (one in this case best forgotten about). As I said, I have several problems. Miniscule ones. A bag of rubbish I haul around due to accumulative avoidance, or The Accumulative Avoidance Problem. Hardly worth talking about… unless it bothers you. Which it may now as you’ve heard about it. The main problem, however, is something more pervasive and serious. I’ve started calling it my submarine of doom, or The Submarine of Doom Problem.
Let me explain:
So I start out life differently, as a bunny rabbit, actually, with imaginary sabre-tooth incisors hidden beneath fluffy white fur… retractable trainer fangs… and supernova eyes. Eve-ry-thing is going to be guuuu-reat!
I bounce around the place, and hence when a problem presents itself I bounce over it. The Bounce Problem I call it (which eventually matures into The Accumulative Avoidance Problem). Starting out along the proverbial Yellow Brick Road of life, I see a great river. A stony river. I dive in and can instantly swim because I’m bouncy and my forthright effort is innate. I soon evolve into a little fluffy yellow duck. Now I no longer have to avoid the more threatening land predators, and I’m smiling away to myself. Until rapids force my head down into swirling, sucking undercurrents. Never to be outdone, I float up and happily along until one day the water is gone.
I’m stuck on one of the aforementioned stones because I’m a duck afraid of the land. I sit there wondering what to do, staring at the lovely blue sky and the trees blooming and dying. I’m distracted by life; no longer part of it but an observer waiting for the rains.
This is where the problems manifest but are also tackled.
Sitting around is bad.
You foster problems like they’re your children.
Soon the rains come and the river begins to flow again, but you drive yourself towards the bank and find dry land. There, you decide that all that sitting around was good. You were tackling The Accumulative Avoidance Problem.
It feels like a time-out to look at where you’ve been, and you realise you’ve been bouncing rather than tackling internal problems in how you navigate life. So you tackle. You put your shoulder to problems and push. Obviously, you dislocate your shoulder because you’re not used to tackling problems. Never deterred, you bounce back into it and get injury after injury. However, you’re making a little progress. Sorting out piecemeal the multitude of inconsistencies and contradictions in your being. It’s slow going being a self-aware little duck. You don’t have the shine you once had but you’re on your way.
Except, you’re not.
You’re sitting there.
Bigger problems are accumulating:
This is when the aforementioned Submarine of Doom Problem arrives. With your belief that tackling problems is far better than accumulating them, you float into the river again, headlong towards the Submarine of Doom. But the Submarine of Doom is not an ordinary problem because it is directly related to the process of tackling problems. It is your belief that preventing problems is easier than accumulating them. You run towards problems when they are the very things you should run from. Grow back legs and evolve away from that shit.
I tackle now.
I evolve… through struggle.
I will not be outdone.
You notice other evolved little ducks on land, with scary feathers and fangs, tackling their Submarines of Doom. You get to thinking that if each other prevents the other’s problem, problem solved.
Your little rubbery legs propel you back onto land. Soon you grow big intimidating black feathers and get your FANGS back. With other toothy happy friends, you believe you have scared off all threats and problems.
The Accumulative Avoidance Problem, however, is as pervasive as any other problem here because you are a problem tackler now not tackling a problem. This niggles, especially when you’re with other evolved, unafraid ducks because they are avoiding, too. You begin to wonder what the Submarine of Doom is planning: hence you develop The Submarine of Impending Doom Problem. Moreover, you peer repetitively into the river to see it sitting there waiting for your return.
This is the life of someone that hasn’t realised most problems are created inside one’s head. Staying where one shouldn’t; to bunce; to return to a floating duck being forced to bow by rapids is ideologically flawed. One must stay on the bank where it’s safe. Right? But one cannot help feeling a pull to return to the rapids that once made one feel so weak and at sea. One wonders if one can fight the rapids. Shoulder the force.
One returns to the river. Rushes headlong and manifests psychologically a fluffy yellow duck form. Only this time, one sees just one problem: the conundrum of where does the river go and what problems will be encountered when one gets there?
Hence, The Submarine of Impending Doom appears above the water with a thermonuclear bomb armed and ready for the slightest hint of the end, or The Bitter End Problem.
as the river flows endlessly onward, the joy of tackling rapids with ease fills one with a life force that cannot be torpedoed; one is learning how to be a
Duck accepts The Accumulative Avoidance Problem, The Submarine of (Impending) Doom Problem and The Bitter End Problem. Duck is one with the world and oneself. Duck may be perpetually hungry, community-less and directionless, for now, but Duck has the immense feeling that one has conquered oneself.
Duck finds others on the river shouldering into rapids. They share joy.
Duck’s struggle comes to a meaningful
Duck has learned to
Duck’s internal quack does not create external
LISTEN TO 2 SHORT STORIES I WROTE, READ BY ME
Donnacha lives on the remote Irish island of Treoir.
Haunted by the memory of his institutionalised wife and failing at being
a surrogate father to his niece and nephew, he tries to find new
meaning by giving refuge to an African teen who has albinism.
In parts of Africa, people with albinism are considered magical and
witch doctors convince remote tribes they will be blessed with good luck
and wealth by drinking a broth made from the body parts of albinos.
This makes them a hunted people.
Dubliner, Jonah Odjinwahlia, has a world-changing scientific theory
and suffers from albinism. When his petty criminal of a father plans to
sell him to traffickers, he is given refuge on the island of Treoir. But
his arrival amongst the sheltered community sparks old superstitions.
Once Jonah goes missing, his benefactor, Donnacha, sets off on a
perilous trek across Tanzania to hunt for the witch doctor Jonah has
been sold to.
Set against a backdrop of conservatism and superstition, Treoir is
both a gripping plot and an exploration into cultural norms that span
the modern and third worlds, highlighting the arbitrary remedies we
create for our fragility and human nature—that can legitimise our
most abhorrent behaviours.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 12 October 2020
But, clearly needing more problems, he decides to help Jonah, an albino youth from Dublin, whose Tanzanian family are proposing to sell him to a witch-doctor. Jonah’s arrival demonstrates it’s not only Tanzanians who are superstitious about Albinism. The youth’s presence upsets the locals, and not only those who already have a problem with Donnacha.
The world on the island is clearly not as Donnacha sees it, and at the start I wanted to shake him shouting, Wake up! Like many drunks, he takes to the booze at the worst of times, making himself vulnerable to his enemies. This is a complex novel with many strands. The characters, especially Donnacha, are well drawn.
The claustrophobia of the closed community on the island is well realised and builds. When Jonah disappears, Donnacha has to make a tough decision. Fearing he has failed yet another person, he risks everything and sets off on an expedition to recover the youth.
The danger and threats build to a satisfying climax.